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This incredible recipe is apparently originally from Food & Wine Magazine, though I am sure that I first  found it somewhere else – another take-off, no doubt, but I can see why. I made this for Thanksgiving two years ago and promptly made it again for Christmas. Last year, I made something different (still sweet potatoes, but with ginger and coconut) – and I missed the heck out of this recipe and wished I’d made it instead. This recipe produces a super-smooth, lusciously creamy, sweetly fragrant sweet potato puree that has a most tantalizing vanilla aroma. I admit I am a real vanillaholic, but I just can’t find any other sweet potato dish that comes anywhere close to this one.

It’s amusing to me, now that I have this online recipe journal, how often I look up a recipe here when I can’t remember where else I’ve got it written down. So, in the spirit of archiving my favorite cooking experiences digitally, and of adding my voice to the many out there who have already enthusiastically endorsed this recipe – here it is, with credit to the various versions floating in cyberspace.

I should note that the two versions I’ve seen use either heavy cream (Food and Wine) or half and half. I’ve made it with half-and-half both times so that is what I am posting here, but I have no doubt that the original version is even more decadent and wonderful, and frankly I can’t wait to try it that way too.

4 lbs sweet potatoes

1 cup half-and-half or whipping cream

4 Tbsp butter

1/2 vanilla bean

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Poke the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and bake for 35-45 minutes, until tender. Let cool, then peel and transfer to a food processor. Puree until fairly smooth. (I had to stop several times and dig around in the Cuisinart to dislodge stubborn chunks of sweet potato; I finally just went on to the next step and added the cream, which loosened things up nicely). 

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the cream or half-and-half in a small saucepan with the butter. Split the vanilla bean down the middle and scrape the seeds into the cream mixture; drop the bean pod in as well. Stir well and heat just until it simmers. Remove from heat and let it steep until the potatoes are done. 

Remove the vanilla bean from the cream mixture. With the food processor on, carefully pour the vanilla cream into the sweet potatoes and process until smooth. Season the sweet potato puree with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl and serve.

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Basil is beyond bountiful again in my garden. Last time (just a few weeks ago) I managed to chop up and freeze a good-sized load of it in ice cube trays. I found out that if I really pack the cubes, I get a tablespoon of basil into each square. Perfect quantities for soups or sauces, when the occasion arises. I also made a batch of the incredible maple-basil balsamic vinaigrette that I can’t stop eating. Stuff like that seems too good to also be good for you.

Here’s something else that’s good for you. I decided to whip up a batch of pesto this time, since it’s the only way to reliably use up decent quantities of basil. In my eagerness to harvest the best of my herbs, however, I picked far too many and as a result I made two batches – it worked out to 3 generous cups, or one for the week and two for the freezer. Naturally, the first has already been polished off tidily. This recipe – which substitutes easier-to-find, superfood walnuts for the expensive pine nuts – is adapted from Biba’s Italian Kitchen – perhaps a sign of my renewed obsession with all things Italian, at least culinarily speaking. (I made her recipe for potato gnocchi the other day too, but that’s another, very lumpy, story). In terms of ratios of ingredients, pesto recipes run the gamut. This one seems to me to have the right balance of basil, oil, nuts, garlic and cheese. I did omit the salt on the second round though – there was plenty of it in the parmesan cheese.

Walnut Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/2-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I went for a little less to keep the consistency thicker)

1/3 cup shelled, chopped walnuts (since I was using a food processor, I sort of skipped the chopping part and just filled the cup a bit more to compensate for the size of the nuts)

2 garlic cloves

salt to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl in between as needed. Set aside or refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup.

I found that “sealing” the sauce with a thin layer of olive oil before storing in the fridge or freezer helps prevent the rapid discoloration that happens once basil is cut and exposed to light. My batches came out a bit more than a cup each. Not that I’m complaining about ending up with more pesto than predicted.

Mangia!

 

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